At a time when there is an increased focus on physical wellbeing, especially with reference to the heart, not a day goes by without you hearing about “good cholesterol”, “bad cholesterol” or “triglycerides”, either in the newspapers, on TV, the radio and the internet.

But do you really know how these things affect you and what foods increase or decrease their levels? In fact, these are important factors that influence your risk of heart disease in addition to your age, body weight, exercise level and lifestyle habits.

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a soft, fat-like waxy substance found in your blood and in all your body cells. And although it may surprise you – it is quite normal to have cholesterol. In reality, it plays an important part in your health because it is used to produce cell membranes and some hormones, and serves other functions in your body as well. However, too much cholesterol in the blood poses a major risk for heart disease, which can lead to heart attack and stroke.

It is widely known that you get cholesterol from eating certain foods, but did you know that cholesterol can be produced by your own body

Actually, your liver and other cells in your body make about 75 percent of blood cholesterol. The other 25 percent comes from the food you eat e.g. butter, ghee, eggs, meats and dairy products).

LDL and HDL cholesterol and the difference between the two

LDL is known as “bad” cholesterol while HDL is known as “good” cholesterol. Basically, these are the two types of fats that along with triglycerides make up your total cholesterol count and can be determined through a blood test.

1. How does LDL cholesterol affect your body

High levels of LDL cholesterol can slowly build up in the inner walls of the arteries that feed your heart and brain. Together with other substances, it can form plaque, a thick hard deposit that can narrow the arteries and make them less flexible – resulting in a condition called atherosclerosis. And if a clot forms and blocks a narrowed artery, this can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Our advice: Keep it low. Try to consume less than 160 mg/dl by following a healthy diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol, mainly found in animal products such as butter, fatty meat, milk and dairy products.

2. Why is HDL cholesterol good for you?

HDL cholesterol is called "good” cholesterol because it prevents atherosclerosis by removing cholesterol from the artery walls and disposing them through your liver. It is good to know that even if your total cholesterol level is a bit over the limit, a high HDL count can protect your heart from atherosclerosis and heart disease.

Our Advice: Try to always keep it high: 40mg/dl or higher for men and 50 mg/dl or higher for women. And that’s mainly through maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle (exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding smoking).

Good to know:The hormone estrogen increases a person's HDL cholesterol, which explains why women generally have higher HDL levels than men do, and are therefore protected against heart disease before menopause.

3. What are Triglycerides?

Triglycerides are a form of fat made in the body. High levels of triglycerides can be due to being overweight (especially around the waist), physically inactive, smoking and following a high-fat, high-carb (especially high in simple sugar) diet. People with high triglycerides (more than 150 mg/dl) are more prone to having a high LDL and a low HDL cholesterol level, thereby increasing their chances of getting heart disease.

Our Advice: Follow a healthy overall lifestyle, maintain a healthy weight and eat healthily by following a low fat, high fiber diet.

So if you’re having high cholesterol levels, are overweight or experiencing belly fat, the best remedy is to change your lifestyle now. Quit smoking, maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly and eat healthy so you can protect your heart and protect yourself!

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